* Boehner says would back middle-class cuts alone if must
* Promises to fight to extend tax cuts for the wealthy
By John Whitesides
WASHINGTON, Sept 12 (Reuters) - The top Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives offered a hint of compromise on the divisive issue of taxes on Sunday, saying he would support extending tax cuts for the middle class even if cuts for the wealthy are allowed to expire.
Representative John Boehner said President Barack Obama’s proposal to renew lower tax rates for families making less than $250,000 but let the lower rates for wealthier Americans expire was “bad policy” — but he will support it if he must.
“If the only option I have is to vote for some of those tax reductions, I’ll vote for it,” Boehner said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program.
“If the only option I have is to vote for those at 250 and below, of course I’m going to do that,” he said. “But I’m going to do everything I can to fight to make sure that we extend the current tax rates for all Americans.”
Boehner’s comments suggested some room for compromise ahead of a legislative showdown on tax rates. Republicans want to extend all of the cuts passed under former President George W. Bush, which expire at the end of the year, saying raising taxes on the rich would hurt a flagging economy.
“I’ve been making the point now for months that we need to extend all the current rates for all Americans if we want to get our economy going again, and we want to get jobs in America,” Boehner said.
“I think raising taxes in a very weak economy is a really, really bad idea, and most economists would agree with that,” he said.
The Obama administration has pressured Republicans to agree to the permanent extension of the middle-class cuts. Obama says extending cuts for the wealthy would increase the budget deficit by $700 billion over a decade.
“You cannot afford to raise taxes on the middle class. We should make that permanent,” top White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“What we cannot afford to do is pass 700 billion additional dollars of tax cuts for the millionaires and billionaires at a time when we are just going to borrow that money,” he said.
While opinion polls show a majority of Americans support letting the tax cuts for the wealthy expire, the issue has made some Democrats nervous ahead of Nov. 2 congressional elections that could see them lose their majorities in the House and Senate.
Some Democrats in both chambers have backed away from Obama’s stance on the tax cuts for the wealthy. In the Senate, at least three Democrats and independent Joe Lieberman have said they would prefer an extension of all the rates, citing the economic malaise.
“I think there’s a growing chorus on Capitol Hill to extend all of these tax rates, and I would hope that we would do it,” Boehner said.
Senior White House adviser David Axelrod pressed Republicans to move forward on the permanent extension on the middle class cuts, even without cuts for the wealthy.
“We agree on the middle class tax cuts. Let’s not hold them hostage while we debate whether we’re going to give this very small number of people at the top a tax cut that we can’t afford,” Axelrod told NBC’s “Meet the Press” program.
Editing by Philip Barbara